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Though charges against Pasco cops were dropped, case is far from over

FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2015, file photo, marchers carry photos of police shooting victim Antonio Zambrano-Montes during a rally in Pasco, Wash. Three police officers in Washington state who fatally shot the rock-throwing Mexican immigrant in February will not face criminal charges, a prosecutor announced Wednesday, saying there was no evidence the officers acted with malice. (Joshua Trujillo/seattlepi.com via AP, File)

FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2015, file photo, marchers carry photos of police shooting victim Antonio Zambrano-Montes during a rally in Pasco, Wash. Three police officers in Washington state who fatally shot the rock-throwing Mexican immigrant in February will not face criminal charges, a prosecutor announced Wednesday, saying there was no evidence the officers acted with malice. (Joshua Trujillo/seattlepi.com via AP, File)

The decision by a local prosecutor to not charge three Pasco police officers with any crimes in the shooting death of a rock-throwing Mexican immigrant hardly concludes the matter.

The federal government is investigating the death of Antonio Zambrano-Montes, 35. The state of Washington plans to review the charging decision. The Franklin County coroner still plans an inquest. The Pasco Police Department has nearly completed an internal review. And several lawsuits are pending.

U.S. Attorney Michael Ormsby is examining whether any violation of federal law occurred in the Feb. 10 shooting death of Zambrano-Montes, who was throwing rocks at police when he was gunned down. Of particular concern is whether the civil rights of the orchard worker from Mexico were violated.

"The review of this complex matter will be thorough and complete," Ormsby said Wednesday. "As a result, it is not possible to accurately estimate when the investigation will conclude."

In addition, the Department of Justice separately is continuing to provide mediation services to reduce police-community tension in Pasco, Ormsby said.

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Franklin County prosecutor Shawn Sant announced at a packed and tense news conference Wednesday that no charges would be filed against the three officers involved in the shooting. That brought cries of "whitewash" and "no justice, no peace" from some people in the crowd.

Despite Sant's decision, Franklin County Coroner Dan Blasdel still plans to hold a rare inquest into the shooting.

An inquest could help restore trust in the Pasco community and ensure the special investigation into the shooting by a team of local police was independent and thorough, Blasdel told the Tri-City Herald.

Blasdel said the inquest could start as early as October.

An inquest would give a jury of six the opportunity to determine the cause and manner of death in the case. The jury also would make a recommendation as to whether the shooting was justified.

Sant has said he doesn't see the need for the inquest as investigators have long known who caused Zambrano-Montes' death. Lawyers representing the victim's family have also been outspoken that an inquest is not needed.

Meanwhile, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee immediately asked Attorney General Bob Ferguson to review the charging decision, saying he would have wanted a review whichever way it went.

"I want to ensure that people have confidence and trust in the decision that is made in this case," Inslee wrote in a letter to the attorney general.

Mexico's Foreign Relations Department issued a statement late Wednesday saying the Mexican government expressed its "deep disappointment" in the prosecutor's decision not to file charges.

The decision "contributes to the perception that acts committed by local police against minorities will go unpunished," according to the statement. It added that the Mexican government would continue to assist Zambrano Montes' family "as they exhaust all the legal avenues available to them."

In addition to the investigations, there are several court cases seeking millions of dollars on behalf of the family of Zambrano-Montes.

Attorneys Charles Herrmann, Jose Baez and Benjamin Crump represent the parents of Zambrano-Montes, who live in rural Mexico. They have filed a claim against the city of Pasco for $4.76 million and plan to file a federal lawsuit next week.

Baez, a Florida civil rights attorney, released a statement saying Sant's decision has no effect on the civil case.

"This forces us to seek justice for Antonio and his family in a different forum, one of the family's choosing, not in the police home court," the statement said.

Herrmann, of Seattle, released a statement saying he "sharply disagrees" with the charging decision.

"(Sant) may have done what he thinks is right, but this matter demands a truly neutral court where a totally impartial jury can render a just and final decision," Herrmann said.

Attorney George Trejo Jr. of Yakima, who represents the estranged wife and two daughters of Zambrano-Montes, said Sant displayed a lack of courage by not filing charges. Trejo has filed a federal lawsuit seeking more than $25 million in damages. He has also asked the U.S. Attorney's Office to step in and criminally charge the officers.

"We are not surprised by this decision, but disgusted and disappointed," Trejo said.

Sant said Wednesday that Pasco officers Adrian Alaniz, Ryan Flanagan and Adam Wright acted "in good faith and without malice" when they killed Zambrano-Montes.

The ACLU of Washington said Thursday the decision shows that the statute governing the criminal prosecution of law enforcement officers in the state must be changed. The law requires proof that the officers acted with malice and without good faith.

"The current law makes prosecutors exceedingly unwilling to file charges against police," Kathleen Taylor, ACLU of Washington's executive director, said. Prosecutors should not be limited to bringing charges only in cases where they believe that the officer acted with "malice," Taylor said.

Zambrano-Montes' shooting was captured on cellphone video that went viral, and sparked weeks of peaceful protests in Pasco last winter. There were no protests after Wednesday's decision.

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